Monthly Archives: July 2012

Lawyerbots take the strain

Software that sifts through millions of documents for relevant information gets the green light to replace human lawyers

When you see such “Shock! Horror!” headlines many lawyers will throw up their hands in despair. They have just about come to terms with the idea that technology exists which, in appropriate circumstances, may shorten the time taken to search through a document population to identify the relevant material to be perused, but the idea that they will have to give way to an army of “Lawyerbots” will be a step too far.

I am not sure, however, that this is the case or that the headline above is as scary as it may appear at first sight. Let me explain.

The headline appears in New Scientist of 28 June11 – Lawyerbot takes the drudgery out of law  – and a further article on the same subject may be found in Gizomodo: Lawyerbots Given the Green Light in the US.

The case referred to is the Landow Aviation case in Pittsburgh, which I wrote about in a recent post.  [Keeping up with the Joneses, 29th June, 2012]

Lawyer Thomas Gricks had to examine over 2 million emails and attachments, a task which he estimated would take 20,000 person hours and cost in the region of $2 million. He wanted to use predictive coding to cut the task to a couple of weeks and a fraction of the cost (said to be 1%) and in the face of objections from the plaintiffs in the case, the judge agreed.

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A new order cometh

It has been a long time in the making!

By April 2013, 14 years will have passed from the start of the Woolf reforms (Access to Justice) in April 1999 to the introduction of the Jackson reforms due to come into effect next year.

There is much to be done and judges to be trained. CPD providers will need to offer solicitors and counsel education in how to manage disclosure in the digital world. Of course, the courts themselves still have to catch up and paper will still be needed for the foreseeable future but may be (just may be) the problems which bedevil many Government inspired projects (such as the recent IT project for electronic working in the Rolls Building) will be resolved before the fourteenth anniversary of the introduction of the Jackson reforms. That said, by 2027 it certainly will not worry this particular blogger whether they are or not!

Already, there have been a rash of articles and comments on the new proposals and there will be more to come as April 1st 2013 draws near. I have yet to see an advertisement for a conference on the new regime but rest assured they will appear before too long.

In the spirit of “quality, cost-effectiveness and speed” which Rupert Jackson identified (quoting Michael Todd QC at the IBA conference in Dubai in November 2011) as the three most important core requirements business leaders involved in commercial litigation wanted to see, I thought I would put together a summary of the major innovations with which our clients and their clients will have to deal come Big Bang! I do not intend this list to be exhaustive but merely to act as an aide memoire. I also produce much of it without comment because many of the innovations are self explanatory.

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Ups and downs in a dismal summer

I had hoped for a brief period of calm between the emotions caused by the gallant failure of Andy Murray to overcome the peerless Roger Federer and the onslaught Londoners will have to face shortly as the start of the Olympic Games approaches.  Some hope!  The gap, such as it  is, has been filled by broken motorway viaducts, busloads of athletes getting lost en route to the Olympic Village, and hundreds of ‘security guards’ going AWOL even before the action starts.

I did allow myself a crumb of comfort from the recent 4-0 drubbing of Australia, with one match abandoned without a ball being bowled (or it would almost certainly have been 5-0, so woeful were the Aussies). However satisfying beating Australia always is to English cricket lovers, this apology for a series between great cricketing rivals has absolutely no bearing on the fight for the Ashes next year and was little more than a rain sodden exercise in money grubbing by the respective cricketing boards.

As if that was not enough, I scan the news daily to see whether there is a threat of a strike by the country’s umbrella manufacturers in what is fast becoming a unique occurrence, for even the British climate, of a year without any summer at all! I am sorry to say that not even the prospect of fine weather in October and November (not yet promised) is likely to put a spring in my step.

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Squeaky Kleen

Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan of the US 7th District Court is shortly to retire. Those of you who remember her will recall that she is the judge in the “other” case involving an argument about how best to deal with discovery, by which I mean, not Judge Peck’s case of Da Silva, but Kleen Products LLC et al v Packaging Corporation of America.

She must be relieved that Judge Peck has fielded all the criticism and adverse comment including what seems to this relative outsider to have been an extraordinary attempt to get the judge to recuse himself from the Da Silva case on a number of grounds including that he shared an educational panel at Legal Tech with the e-discovery expert for one of the parties, Ralph Losey. As you may also recall, Judge Peck has recently thrown out the attempt to have him recuse himself in a 56 page judgment which is a model of temperance in the face of adversity.

But back to Judge Nolan and the Kleen case. This is the case where the plaintiffs sought an order requiring the defendants to use alternative technology to complete discovery after they had nearly finished with their collection and were almost ready for production.

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Taken at the flood

It used to be commonplace to read in legal journals and the like, that the legal profession was either going to Hell in a handcart (sorry to use the phrase again so soon but it sums up what I mean brilliantly) or was careering towards a new Nirvana(here I go again) where the only side was up.Long ago, I realised that both were probably true.

Let me explain. It is in the interests of law firms, as with any organisation, to maximise the publicity surrounding the good news and to seek to minimise the bad.

Thus, we have had twenty or more years of tables produced by the likes of Chambers and the Legal 500 where the relative merits of the firms, their size, special areas of expertise and greatest achievements may be pored over by an eager public.

Equally we are accustomed to articles about increases in turnover and/or profit and lateral hires which often gloss over the demise of a particular work type or the loss of a major stream of client work with the corresponding redundancies and/or which fail to connect a rise in profit per partner with the reduction in numbers sharing the pot.

Law firms are beginning to release details of the results for the year ended April 2012 so we can expect to see more of this in the coming weeks particularly as journalists and commentators go on holiday and news is scarce.

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Posse comitatus

Most people are at least vaguely familiar with the concept of a sheriff, either from watching too many westerns or possibly from the stories of Robin Hood and his ongoing battles with the then Sheriff of Nottingham.

For a more accurate and current description of a sheriff, the High Sheriffs’ Association of England & Wales defines the current role of a (High) Sheriff as follows:

The Office of High Sheriff is an independent non-political Royal appointment for a single year. The origins of the Office date back to Saxon times, when the ‘Shire Reeve’ was responsible to the king for the maintenance of law and order within the shire, or county, and for the collection and return of taxes due to the Crown. Today, there are 55 High Sheriffs serving the counties of England and Wales each year.

Whilst the duties of the role have evolved over time, supporting the Crown and the judiciary remain central elements of the role today. In addition, High Sheriffs actively lend support and encouragement to crime prevention agencies, the emergency services and to the voluntary sector. In recent years High Sheriffs in many parts of England and Wales have been particularly active in encouraging crime reduction initiatives, especially amongst young people. Many High Sheriffs also assist Community Foundations and local charities working with vulnerable and other people both in endorsing and helping to raise the profile of their valuable work. The High Sheriff Association adopted DebtCred and Crimebeat in recent years in response to specific areas of need.

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